Leaves By Moonlight, Yosemite National Park, California
Photo By Morris Swartz

Yosemite National Park is one of the most photographed sites in the United States. The park has been heavily visited, and its scenes have been captured on billions of cell phones. The challenge to photographers is to find a time of year when one can avoid crowds.

Fall is one of those “off seasons” when the crowds have lessened and the waterfall runoffs have decreased. Although Yosemite is not known for spectacular fall color, the changing leaves of black oaks, dogwoods and maples do add colorful offsets to the massive rock formations. Mornings are often punctuated by valley fog, enhancing a sense of mystery.

I had last visited Yosemite Valley during the summer 30 years earlier, at which time my current passion for landscape photography was inspired by a ranger-led photo walk. Now I was excited to return to witness the fall season. One of my goals was to find images other than the familiar iconic ones.

On a clear night with partial moonlight, I was crossing a bridge over the Merced River, en route to a planned late-night star trails shoot. Looking down into the dark water, partially illuminated by a particularly bright moon, I noticed a patch of leaves gradually swirling in a stream eddy. Having always been fascinated by photographing flowing water, I knew that the movement of the leaves had the potential to become an interesting visual anchor. I positioned myself so that the leaf swirl in the lower left would resonate with the rounded glacial rock face in the distance.

Using my 14mm lens and a long exposure, I was able to add an element of motion and geometric shape to this quiet nighttime scene. An exposure of 20 seconds worked best to give the swirl the right consistency. Moonlight and the use of a high ISO setting gave the image a daytime glow.

I was delighted by the final capture, turning an undramatic fall scene into a dynamic one and creating a unique fall image in Yosemite.

See more of Morris Swartz’s work at swartznaturescapes.com.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Samyang 14mm Ultra Wide-Angle f/2.8 IF ED UMC, Gitzo 1309 tripod, Kirk BH-3 ballhead. Exposure: 20 sec., ƒ/2.8, ISO 1600.

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